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Charter Commission Finalizes Ballot Proposals And Schedules Public Information Sessions

Pat Bradley/WAMC
Plattsburgh City Charter Commission meets on August 12, 2015

After months of research, review and debate, the ballot proposals to change the Plattsburgh City Charter are ready for the voters.  As WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley reports, the charter commission is planning two public information sessions on the ballot items.

In March, Plattsburgh’s mayor appointed a citizens’ commission to draft changes to the 113-year-old city charter.  Initially the group planned to present three ballot proposals to the voters — one to modernize its language, another to create staggered elections for city councilors and extend the mayor’s term to four years, and a third that would offer a choice between a mayor-council government or a city manager-council form of government.

Ultimately, the Charter Commission unanimously voted to place two items on the ballot: modernization of language and staggered elections.

Commission Chair Luke Cyphers says what’s being put before voters is cut and dried.   “We have a new charter that keeps the same form of government: a strong mayor form of government, perhaps strengthening some of the mayor’s powers a little bit.  But what it really does is brings the city of Plattsburgh charter into the 21st century, and in some ways into the 20th century.  It was stuck in the 19th in some ways.”

The group chose not to place the most controversial item on the November ballot – whether the city should change its form of government from mayor-council to city manager-council.  Cyphers says the concept has not been dropped, merely delayed.  Mayor James Calnon plans to put it before voters next year.   “What I’m going to do is shortly after the commission achieves its goal for this year, which is having the election, they then will cease to exist. And out of respect for them I want to wait until that happens.  At which point I would then follow up with a local law that I would propose to the council to put on the ballot the question of the form of government whether it should remain the mayor-council form of government that we have now or consider a city manager. So that then would happen at the next general election in the fall of ’16.”

The charter commission plans to hold two information sessions on the ballot proposals October 15th and 28th.   Previous work sessions were sparsely attended by the public but Ward 3 Republican Councilor Dale Dowdle hopes holding sessions close to election day will spur interest.   “People are busy in the summer.  I do think it’s a good strategy to be able to maintain interest I think ‘til Election Day.”  

Cyphers says the commission felt that because so few items are on the ballot, it was best to keep the information sessions as close to the election as possible.   “Putting things out too early might almost be counterproductive. There’s not going to be a lot of election coverage because it’s not a general election year. There’s no federal elections on the ballot.  Really in the city of Plattsburgh the charter proposals are about the only things on there. So we figured that’s enough time and close enough to the election that people can be focused on it.  In the meantime we’re going to be hitting a lot of local groups and talking to smaller gatherings of people. So it’s not just going to be all on the shoulders of these two meetings in October.”

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